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Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup - 1000 Kms Circuit Paul Ricard

1st - 2nd June 2018

Event report by Raymond Bonnello

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Bronze test - Friday, June 1st 09:00

17 cars took part in one hour the bronze tests this Friday morning.

It's with a time of 1: 55.712 that the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 #333 (Rinat Salikhov, Alexander Mattschull, Luca Ludwig) finishes at the top of the timesheets.

Darren Burke, Salih Yoluc, Euan Hankey (Ram Racing #49 - Mercedes-AMG GT3) follows at 0.127.

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Free practice - Friday, June 1st 10:50 - 12:20

Fabrizio Crestani, the teammate of Giuseppe Cipriani and Miguel Ramos, (Daiko Lazarus Racing #27 - Lamborghini Huracan GT3) dominated the free practice session in 1.55.300.

Behind, at 0.196, Mikhail Aleshin, Miguel Molina, Davide Rigon (SMP Racing #72 - Ferrari 488 GT3).

Third time for Franck Perera, Phil Keen, Rolf Ineichen (GRT Grasser Racing Team #82 - Lamborghini Huracan GT3)

In front of Stuart Leonard, Sheldon van der Linde, Frederic Vervisch (Belgian Audi Club Team WRT #17 - Audi R8 LMS).

The top 23 cars were separated by less than one second.

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Pre Qualifying - Friday, June 1st 15:40 - 17:10

In 1.54.875 Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Yelmer Buurman (Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon #4 - Mercedes-AMG GT3) outshone their opponents.

Matthieu Vaxiviere, Jake Dennis and Nicki Thiim (R-Motorsport #76 - Aston Martin V12 Vantage) conceded only 0.039 s.

In third position was the first Pro-Am the Ram Racing #49 Mercedes-AMG GT3.

Alex Fontana, Adrian Zaugg, Mikael Grenier (Emil Frey Jaguar Racing #54 - Emil Frey G3 Jaguar) positioned the first Silver-Cup in 7th place.

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Qualifying - Saturday, June 2nd 09:40 - 10:40

Matthieu Vaxivière, Nicki Thiim and Jake Dennis won a second consecutive pole with an average time of 1:54.303 ahead of Andrew Watson, Ben Barnicoat and Come Ledogar (Garage 59 #58 - McLaren 650 S GT3).

Alex Fontana, Adrian Zaugg, Mikael Grenier succeeded the 13th time first Silver-cup.

Darren Burke, Salih Yoluc and Euan Hankey set the fastest time in the Pro-am category.

The best representatives in the Am category were Alexander West, Chris Harris and Chris Goodwin (Garage 59 #188 - McLaren 650 S GT3)

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The race - Saturday, June 2nd 17:45 - 23:45

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16 seconds is the time that displayed the countdown when Albert Costa on his Lexus RC F GT3 overtook Jules Gounon on his Bentley Continental GT3 in the darkness of the the French track.

Emil Frey Lexus Racing snatched a historic Blancpain GT Series victory, this was the first Endurance Cup victory for the Swiss squad.

The #14 Lexus was in contention for a strong result throughout the long-distance race, but it was only late in the contest that it emerged as a serious threat for top spot.

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Indeed, the #58 Garage 59 McLaren 650 S led for the vast majority of the first five hours.

Starting from second on the 50-car grid, the McLaren assumed the lead almost immediately, while the pole-sitting #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage plummeted down the order.

The #58 crew of Ben Barnicoat, Andrew Watson and Come Ledogar all delivered excellent stints, with their car leading by as much as 12 seconds at one stage.

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But their race began to unravel after the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari 488 took the lead at the final round of pit stops, having saved their joker stop – for which there is no minimum time – until the last possible moment.

The Garage 59 crew then hit more trouble when they received a drive-through penalty for an infringement during their final pit stop, all but ending their chances of the win.

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Saving their joker for the final stop was a shrewd move by the SMP-Ferrari crew of Mikhail Aleshin, Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina.

It looked to have ensured them the win late on, but their hopes were dashed in cruel fashion when a suspension issue forced them out of the race.

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In the space of a few dramatic minutes, the two leading cars had fallen out of contention.

This promoted Bentley’s #7 Continental GT3 into top spot, though it was not there through fortune alone.

The car had moved from 18th on the grid to second thanks to a clever use of their joker stop during Jordan Pepper’s opening stint.

This elevated the car to P4, after which Steven Kane pushed the crew further up the order and into second.

Gounon handled the final stint and was passed by the fast-charging Molina, but when both of the leaders hit problems the young Frenchman found himself in P1.

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But, as the clock ticked down, Costa closed in.

The Emil Frey driver reduced the gap, although a late full-course yellow looked to have put Gounon beyond reach.

Costa was able to close in once more, but as the final lap began the Bentley still held a slender advantage.

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Then, with just seconds left before the chequered flag flew, Gounon suffered a problem with the Bentley’s bonnet.

Costa pounced and the Lexus surged into the lead, crossing the line for the final time as fireworks lit up the skies above Circuit Paul Ricard.

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Behind the leading duo, the #58 McLaren salvaged a strong result with third spot.

Raffaele Marciello, Adam Christodoulou and Thomas Jaeger (AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG #88 - Mercedes-AMG GT3) took fourth, while Matt Parry, Alex Buncombe, Lucas Ordonez (GT Sport Motul Team RJN #23 - Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3) secured their best finish of the season in fifth spot.

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Silver Cup honours went to Michele Beretta, Sandy Mitchell and Martin Kodric (Barwell Motorsport #78 - Lamborghini Huracan GT3).

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Alexander West, Chris Harris, Chris Goodwinwere on top in the Pro-Am category.

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Arguably the most impressive performance of the race came in the Am Cup category where Chris Harris, Alexander West and Chris Goodwin delivered a faultless drive to victory.

Indeed, the McLaren finished 18th overall from a starting field of 50, securing the manufacturer a class win 48 years on from the death of its founding father Bruce McLaren.

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My favourite of the week end

I left Albert Costa in Barcelona in 2017 on the highest step of the podium in the final of the International Open GT to find him still driving the Lexus RC F GT3 of Emil Frey Lexus Racing for a new win here on the Paul Ricard circuit.

Well done Albert !!

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I give you an appointment for the last round of the 2018 Blancpain GT Series - Endurance Cup at the Velocidad Festival, Barcelona (Spain) in September 28th - 30th.

(Based on Blancpain GT Series Press release)

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